Acton Institute Powerblog

Food Stamp Sticker Shock

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Grocery shopping is not a chore I enjoy. It’s a mundane task, and everything you buy you will have to soon replace. Then, when you finally get to the end of the chore, you look at the register and think, “HOW much??”

It gets worse.

You and I (American taxpayers) managed to “misspend” $2.4 billion this year on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.)

How did we manage this?

According to the USDA’s audit for 2014, the government keeps giving food stamps to people who don’t fit the criteria. States are supposed to get such folks to pay back the debt, but that isn’t happening. While no one argues that we must have a safety net for people who cannot afford nutritional food for themselves and their families, SNAP is a bloated and wasteful mess.

At the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley make this recommendation:

Congress and the Administration should transform food stamps into a program that encourages work and self-sufficiency, close eligibility loopholes, and, after the recession ends, reduce food stamp spending to pre-recession levels.

Alexandra Gourdikian points out that no one wants to get rid of SNAP, but there is clearly too much waste and fraud. Further, SNAP does nothing to encourage people to work or even look for work. Far too often, what this means is, once you start getting SNAP benefits, you’ll always get SNAP benefits.

Rector and Bradley also point out that SNAP benefits require no drug testing, and illegal immigrants (usually ones who have children who have been born in the U.S.) easily receive SNAP benefits.

There is one other glaring problem: the government has spent the past few years actively recruiting people for SNAP. Large companies like Coca-Cola and Walmart lobby for this: they make a lot of money from it. This type of crony capitalism is costing you and me big bucks at the grocery store. It’s time to end the sticker shock.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • kent veazey

    Maybe, considering the principle of subsidiarity, the federal government should get out of SNAP.

  • Eric Neubauer

    One statement that stands out to me is, “once on SNAP…always on SNAP” which is completely untrue. Now, if one fits the criteria for a long period of time that is another story but folks cycle off SNAP when they emerge out of the $ range where they become ineligible. I agree, nothing wrong with reforms within then system and we should engage in job training etc. The real problem – this recession has really hurt so many and folks are just giving up.

    • There is virtually no cap on SNAP benefits. The renewal process is easy and nearly uncontested. We do need a food safety net, but there is no way to defend the waste and fraud in the current SNAP program.

      • Eric Neubauer

        Elise – thank you for your comment / response. For some in the lowest economic sector. But I know first hand. You cycle out when your income does not meet the criteria. Reform yes. But all too often what folks say is cut, cut & cut with no real reform agenda in place. I am so tired of the unwillingness of our politicians to actually reform something. Get it done for the sake of the poor. They need our help.

        • Indeed. But big government is not the answer. We need more local response, with an eye to move as many people into self-sufficiency as possible.


    if the government want to save money , stop giving $200 billion to other countries ever year,

  • Texas Catholic

    “Large companies like Coca-Cola and Walmart lobby for this: …” — Welfare pays for COKE ???!!! Or does it pay for other products made by Coke which hopefully may not be quite such junk food ? If it pays for junk food, how does this contribute (add) to money spent on medicaid and other health costs, including for kids ?

  • Hayek warned about such programs over 50 years ago. He said they were trying to migrate tribal/family values to the national level. It doesn’t work. Tribes and families know the people to whom they give assistance personally so they can give to those who need it and refrain from those who don’t. When we try to do the same thing with people no one knows we create a system that in no way can escape fraud, waste and abuse. The system guarantees it.